The Blog of Patrick C. Cook

The photography blog of Patrick C. Cook.

The Great Canyon Photo-Caper

My wife and I were at the Grand Canyon in September of 2011. We were taking photos just before sunset at Grandview complete with my big DSLR, tripod and all the necessary lens and accessories. The sky was glowing orange, the tops of the Canyon features were illuminated with wonderful "golden-hour" light and the air was warm and comfortable. There were quite a lot of spectators due to the magnificent beauty of the Canyon at sunset. I was taking my time, setting up for great shots.


I swear I was one of only two people with a tripod (to this day I'm not sure if the other person had a tripod or an umbrella). Perhaps you have experienced an interesting phenomenon when you shoot on a tripod - people think you know what you're doing. There were a couple examples of this while at Grandview. First, I noticed that most, but not everyone, would duck as they passed in front of me so as to not ruin my photo. Some would stop just short of passing in front of my tripod, and detour behind me. I was sure to thank all who showed such respect for my work, and kept quite with those who preferred the route in front of me.

Another example of the tripod-makes-you-look-like-you-know-what-you're-doing phenomenon was when a woman with a sub $200 point-and-shoot was suddenly standing right next to me as if she had the power to materialize out of thin air. However she got there, she exclaimed "If I stand right here beside you, will I get a great shot." I said, "Mame, I think you can stand anywhere and get a great shot." She laughed...and held her ground causing me loss of precious elbow room. I think what she really wanted was to teach me some photography tips. But it gets better. I witnessed the most remarkable event I have ever seen in terms of photography at the Canyon (or anywhere for that matter).

I had relocated pretty far out on a ledge looking out over Grandview and was setting up for a shot (shown below) when an older gentleman and his wife worked their way down to the same ledge, finishing their trek perhaps 10 feet to my right. Without looking at his camera settings (maybe he came prepared) he raised his camera, which looked like a point-and-shoot molded into the SLR body style. He aims his weapon to his left about 30 degrees and presses and holds the shutter button. The camera rang out with a series of those fake shutter sound effects as he panned his camera right for about 60 degrees total. The entire machine gunned series couldn't have taken more than 10 seconds. He then lowered his camera and exclaimed "okay, let's go" and the two aspiring photographers spun around to return to their place of origin. The spunk they had in their step as they scurried up toward the parking lot made them look like they had just pulled off the greatest photo-caper in the history of the Canyon complete with Park Rangers in hot pursuit.

Needless to say, my focus and concentration of the gorgeous Canyon before me was disrupted to the point of momentarily forgetting what that big black box was that was mounted on a 3-legged stilt. I was in shock and awe at the prospect of anyone treating the Canyon with such disdain, photographically speaking. As I regained awareness of my own photography objective, I found myself trying to figure out what his intention really was. Was he souvenir collecting, thinking that storing the scene before him in digital bytes would allow him to enjoy the Canyon back home with a cold beer? Perhaps he had more faith in his camera than he should, given that hand-held shooting in low light is difficult even for the best digital cameras in skilled hands...and on a tripod. Maybe he thought that out of 20 shots, at least one will be good enough to keep. Then again, maybe he was in a total rush and was happy to get what he gets. We'll never know because they must have been back in their car before I could regain my wits. I resolved that this could never be figured out as I took my own shot, determined to not fall victim to rushing my enjoyment of that epic place.

So there you have it. A real-life photography story from the Canyon. But this story, unlike most of my other stories, has a moral: Never allow your camera to become a substitute for the experience of being there - you will be disappointed.